Hong Kong rail chiefs admit high-speed rail link to mainland China will not always be as quick as they claimed
Estimated time for trips from the city to Guangzhou does not apply to services stopping at stations along the line
Hong Kong rail bosses admitted on Monday that some journeys on the city’s new high-speed rail line to Guangzhou would take longer than the promised 48 minutes, after reports they could overshoot that by as much as half an hour.
The MTR Corporation’s chief of operations, Francis Li Shing-kee, said the shorter time only applied to direct trains and that any train stopping at one or all of the three stations between the city’s West Kowloon station and Guangzhou South – Futian, Shenzhenbei and Humen – would take longer.
Mainland Chinese media reported that during the recent trials of the HK$84.4 billion (US$10.7 billion) link, set to open to the public in the third quarter of the year, the journey took one hour and 18 minutes.
On Monday, Li said the needs of people using the intervening stations trumped the need to keep travel times low.
“We need to take care of passengers’ actual needs,” he explained. “If a train stops at one or two stations and takes one or two more minutes, which provides greater convenience for passengers, do we still need to haggle over these longer journeys taking one or two more minutes?”
Li denied that MTR Corp had misled the public on journey times. The current service takes two hours from Hung Hom to Guangzhou East station, in the heart of the Tianhe business district.
“[The 48 minutes] is the actual travelling time between the two stops. But we need to see how to make our service more efficient and convenient for passengers. There is no misleading of the public on our part,” he said.
MTR Corp was still in discussions with mainland authorities about timetables for services on the 142km line, Li added. Negotiations on ticketing arrangements for destinations beyond the network operated by MTR Corp were also under way.
More than a week ago, the corporation’s chairman, Frederick Ma Si-hang, caused a ruckus when he said passengers planning to go to destinations requiring a change at Guangzhou South would have to get off there to buy an onward ticket, rather than buying all of their tickets in Hong Kong.
The MTR, he said, would only sell tickets for four short-haul and 14 long-haul destinations involving the Hong Kong section of the new line. MTR Corp said this was due to technical issues.
But the Transport and Housing Bureau said later that a mainland operator could be brought to West Kowloon to sell tickets for mainland routes. Ticketing booths and machines could be set up, but the operator would charge an extra service fee for journeys not on the Hong Kong section, it said.
Li confirmed that with this arrangement, passengers would still need to pay a surcharge.
“We are trying to see if there are ways to reduce the surcharge,” he said.
The West Kowloon terminal will have 23 ticket counters for the 18 destinations. Another five counters will be reserved for trips outside the city’s network.
Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said he thought it likely that 90 per cent of the high-speed rail journeys would not be direct trips between Hong Kong and Guangzhou. And as tickets are said to cost about HK$260, higher than the HK$210 charged for the current two-hour service, the high-speed line would not be competitive, he added.
“It is obvious that the MTR Corp deliberately misleads the public and gives this rosy picture about the high-speed rail. I believe that Hongkongers will have to pay a heavy price over its operation because its service can’t attract enough demand to make it sustainable for the long term.”